July 8, 2020
In the summer of 2019, with a certain amount of trepidation, I attended a party at the Buffalo News, the daily newspaper serving my hometown of Buffalo and the surrounding region. It would be the first time I’d been back in the building since I’d stepped down as editor in 2012 to become the public editor of the New York Times. When I arrived, I found a festive scene. Cocktails and oysters were being served on a balcony overlooking the Lake Erie harbor and the new construction at the city’s Canalside development, which houses shops, restaurants and, in winter, a skating rink near the arena where the Buffalo Sabres play their National Hockey League games.
Buffalo, once the eighth-largest city in the United States, fell on hard times when its steel and auto plants hit the skids in the 1980s. But in recent years, it has bounced back economically and has become an unlikely darling of tourism roundups of coolest cities to visit. It landed on a list of “best places for millennials to settle,” and my son, a young public defender, heard the call. He lives in a rehabbed industrial building downtown, where the high ceilings and low rents are the envy of his coastal friends.
Buffalo’s comeback, however, is not the News’s. The celebratory atmosphere I encountered at that summer party masked a far grimmer reality inside the building, where, as I’d feared, the changes were breathtaking. Home to a thousand employees not so long ago, the company now employed fewer than half that. Chatting with my former colleagues on the executive committee and others in the know, I heard nothing encouraging. These conversations left me with the depressing sense that the paper, even if it endured, would be vastly changed over the next five years. Its staff would probably continue to shrink, and it might eventually publish a print edition on Sundays only, if at all.